Staffing woes lead to crowded buses

Staffing woes lead to crowded buses
Published: Nov. 22, 2022 at 7:07 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - A severe staffing shortage and Thanksgiving week are creating headaches for school officials in Kanawha County.

Last week, the county contemplated a return to remote learning. However, that plan drew opposition and convinced officials this week to try everything possible to keep school open.

Yet, as nearly a third of its school buses remain parked with no driver, the county has endured a difficult week.

“We are in a crisis when it comes to staffing our public education,” said Tracy White, president of the Kanawha County Board of Education.

School officials said three of five bus terminals have been forced to cut or combine routes.

That led to a crowded situation Monday on Kanawha County Bus Number 1801 in St. Albans.

Kimberly Harry’s granddaughter captured video of students crowded into seats -- some talking about how they had five to a seat as the bus driver urged students to be quiet as he approached a railroad crossing.

Harry described her granddaughter as frazzled as she stepped off the bus at the intersection of Parkview and East Parkview Drive.

“It took her a while to come to me, but as I saw her coming to me I just knew there was something wrong,” Harry said. “She was scared. She was shaken. And as soon as she got in the car, she was like, ‘MawMaw, you’re just not going to believe it.’ She was really upset.”

Kanawha County school officials were unable to tell WSAZ NewsChannel 3 how many bus drivers have been absent this week.

White expressed complete confidence in the county’s staff.

“I know that every single one of our bus drivers are doing everything they can to get our kids to school as safely as possible,” she said. “I know that they are, again, running two routes, three routes. They’re going, dropping off their kids and picking up other kids. They are doing everything possible to make up these runs that we just don’t have staffed.”

As for Bus 1801, school officials say they watched the on-board camera. That review showed a crowded bus, yet no evidence from that camera view of students sitting in the floor or five to a seat.

As for Kimberly Harry, she just wants her granddaughter to be safe.

“Safety is most important,” he said. “It would have been awful if there had been a wreck or anything. The kids could have been thrown around and hurt. It would have been awful.”

Kanawha County Schools encourages anyone with a busing issue to contact the county’s transportation office at 304-348-6616.